There were three central reasons why I decided to enlist in the Navy SEALs. One was I had spent time doing humanitarian work overseas in Bosnia with people who had survived the ethnic cleansing, and in Rwanda with people who had survived the genocide. I came to believe really strongly that, in certain situations—especially ethnic cleansing and genocide—people needed others to stand up who were willing to protect them. As a graduate student at Oxford, I spent a lot of time talking, and joining the military was a way for me to live those values. Also, I was 26 when I joined, but I still had a 16-year-old’s desire to jump out of planes, scuba dive, and do all those things that the Navy SEALs promised. And, I was attracted to the test. SEAL team training is widely considered to be the hardest training in the world, and I wanted to test myself and push myself. Plus, I had a desire to serve my country. I was fortunate to go to undergrad [at Duke] and graduate school on scholarship, and you ask yourself what all of that is for, and for me, I felt like part of it was to find a way to be of service.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Navy SEAL basic training and I remember we came out of the ocean—we had done a two-mile ocean swim—and as we were running back up the beach, someone came running from the opposite way and said a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York. We didn’t know exactly what that meant or what was happening. Later, we ran over to breakfast and as we were eating, we started to realize what had really happened that morning. For everyone in the SEAL team and everyone in the country, everything changed that day.